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How does your entire team have fun together? For innovation to breed, there needs to be a safety net that nurtures the sharing of ideas. The sharing of ideas must be a safe experience. Team members need to feel that this isn’t a popularity contest and that even the most insane and silly sounding ideas should be brought to the table, because those ideas can trigger a spark that lights up another idea. 

One of the ways I promote a stronger safety culture is by giving time and listening to the creative process. A way to enable this is by incorporating silliness over seriousness. Design Thinking does a great job of this. An exercise I really like from Design Thinking is by asking the question, “How might we come up with a solution if this were a Disney movie and we were characters in it?” Yes, I want my team of software engineers to put themselves in a Disney animated film and imagine up a solution so wild it may be fitting for a Disney film. Some Jenkins testing pipeline that applies a patch not so different than building Mr. Potato Head in a Toy Story scene or a mapping solution that turns Aladdin’s carpet in to a live GPS map to help him navigate the Arabian peninsula. Think silly and encourage it.

Now, I couldn’t just show up to a team meeting and say, “Ok everyone, let’s act silly”. Well, I technically could and that would be part of the process but it’s not an end all. It must be encouraged and reinvigorated daily. The creative process is a build up of a series of daily micro events that promotes the culture of stronger safety. Laughter helps. Even in crunchtime.

Sounds easy and is indeed, that’s the good news. The challenge comes with doing this in a remote work environment.

In a recent team meeting, we remotely played a game called Jackbox Party Pack 3. It made us feel like kids. There were side jokes, jokes really only understood if you were part of a geo region, and all around good fun. It’s no holds barred when even your Director of Engineering has to come up with a creative wrestling move that has the word “chunk” in it! Jackbox is a collection of mini games that put your emotional IQ, creative thinking, and quick wit to the test. In some ways, I liken it to a video game version of the NPR game shows “Wait wait, don’t tell me!” and “Ask me another”.

My team is decentralized. We’re in 3 different geolocations with 3 different timezones. North America, Europe, and Asia. Getting everyone together for a team meeting itself requires that team members perform yoga stretching on our schedules. Webex and slack really do bridge the physical distance between team members and for those tools, I’m thankful. Yes, notification nightmares do happen but the tools serve their purpose and allow for customizing notification policies to the nth degree.

Remotely playing Jackbox Party Pack3 with 3 different geolocations was one of the first times my entire team has had live fun together. Silliness over seriousness as a means of encouraging creativity by providing a stronger safety culture. I’m not paid to promote the Jackbox product. In fact, I have a vested interest to not promote it so that I keep the upper hand at this game during family and friend get togethers, where we’ll often play one of the Jackbox mini games!